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Oakwood, church pastor in dispute over sign laws
City manager: No plan to change ordinance
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An Oakwood pastor is at odds with the city over the ordinance on signs, saying he believes the rules violate the Constitution.

Michael Reynolds, senior pastor of West Hall Baptist Church, said he was informed that two informational banners on the church’s property were in violation of the city’s sign regulations after they had been posted for more than a year.

“We didn’t know there was any such ordinance. I got an email from someone at the city informing me that there was an ordinance and I have to have a permit for the signs,” he said. “The signs out there tell information about my church, and I shouldn’t have to ask permission to put them up.”

The city’s ordinance requires sign owners to fill out an application and pay any associated fee to get a permit from the city. Applicants must include information such as dimensions, site plans and scaled drawings of the area the sign will be posted. After an application is received, the city has 30 days to inform the applicant of the decision.

City Manager Stan Brown said code compliance officers contact owners of signs that are in violation of the ordinance. Brown said banners, such as the ones at the church, must be attached to the building and cannot be tattered or worn.

“We’ve made a real concerted effort to try and clean up some of the banners and things that are out of compliance,” he said. “I think most cities have similar ordinances. It’s to try to promote a good upkeep of the city and promote the public welfare.”

Reynolds said he understands the city needs regulations on some things, but doesn’t feel it’s the place of government to interfere with the church.

“I perfectly understand having codes for buildings, parking lots,” he said. “I have no grief with that because that has nothing to do with promoting faith, those are for people’s safety.

“I just don’t see where the county or city or any government agency has the authority to come on my property and tell me how I can or cannot promote my church. Since (the signs are) not a hazard to traffic, and I’m not endangering anybody, then I’m not sure where you get the constitutional authority.”

The rules aren’t an attempt to limit signs or hinder businesses and organizations, Brown said.

“It’s not a matter of you can’t have signs, they just have to be done in an orderly way,” he said. “We try to look at it as ‘What is it someone’s trying to accomplish and how can we make it happen?’ and not to start off as a negative ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that, etc.’

“Usually there’s a way to come up with a win-win situation, and we’re certainly more than willing to work with the church or any other organizations.”

Brown said a church has never raised the issue of the constitutionality of the city’s ordinance. The issue itself has only been addressed in a few states, according to Brown, who asked the city attorney to look into the legal aspect.

“Basically there doesn’t appear to be a federal case law on this matter. A couple of states have addressed it, but in the only two cases the city’s position was upheld,” Brown said. “It’s one of those things that I think is on some new grounds.”

Currently, there are no plans to change the ordinance or allow an exemption for churches, Brown said.

“I think we have to be fair and consistent with everyone. And when you start doing different rules for one set of property owners, when you start treating people differently, you get into other constitutional issues,” he said. “We talked about this issue with our council and they are very comfortable with the laws we have already established, especially with the sign ordinance.”

Reynolds said he wouldn’t mind if the city decides to make an amendment to the rules for churches, but the church has already taken down the signs.

“I don’t have the funds, neither does the church, to fight it,” he said. “The trustees and I agreed to remove them, but it is not to be in compliance with the ordinance, it is simply to protect our church.

“I just think that (the city) ought to back up and rethink themselves if they want to be church friendly.”

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